Post #1336 • April 24, 2009, 2:53 PM • 24 Comments
Criticism has two fundamental problems working against it.
The first is that criticism has a longstanding intellectual link to academia and a professional link to journalism, neither of which fully suits the practice of criticism itself. The grandiose pursuit of piddling knowledge has been a hallmark of humanities studies for a hundred years—Frank Jewett Mather wrote about it—but when deconstructionist authors became popular in the late Eighties and early Nineties, academia really went off the deep end, and art criticism has only begun to recover. And while criticism borrowed its form from journalism, they're completely different activities, albeit excercised alongside one another out of necessity. Now that the economics of journalism are heaving, critics are paying the price for that linkage, as they get dumped from the papers like ballast from a crashing balloon.
The second problem is that the success of art criticism is locked to the success of the art of its time, and the last movement in art to catch on in a big way was Pop. Picasso, Pollock, and Warhol are household names. Beuys and Judd are not. Their antecedents are known primarily to specialists. Given the track record of the last forty years, it's not impossible to imagine that art will never significantly influence the culture at large again. The primary driver of visual culture (not just art, but design, illustration, and any man-made thing with a visual element) right now isn't a style, it's a tool—the computer. Computers are fascinating, but not for reasons that would be useful to an art critic. Art criticism is an ancillary activity of art making, and the fleas aren't going to go anywhere that the dog doesn't take them.
The first problem will sort itself out as self-publishing becomes increasingly common and remunerative. The second problem could end up gutting the genre.